The website has some super features that keep you updated on what’s going on ‘on the ground’ and you can see what effect your membership is having on the landscape. I talked to Matt briefly on a Google Meet call and then sent him a few more questions to find out more about him and how Mossy Earth came to be...
Where did you grow up? Did you always have a love for nature?
I grew up on the coast in West Sussex, England. As a child, I spent my free time either surfing and swimming in the sea or hiking and mountain biking in the South Downs (The South Downs are a beautiful and rural range of chalk hills that extends for about 260 square miles across the south-eastern coastal counties of England). I believe it was this outdoors and active upbringing that bore my appreciation for nature.
When did you decide to come to Portugal? And where do you live? How old were you?
I came to Portugal in 2007, at the age of 26, on a temporary 9 month teaching contract. Fourteen memorable years later and I’m still here.
It was actually a last minute decision to come to Portugal. On completing a telephone interview, I was on a plane a couple of days later. Having never visited Portugal nor knowing much about the country at the time, I recall naively buying a Spanish phrasebook at the airport before departure. Unbeknown to me at the time, Portuguese was a language, which was made quite clear when I jumped in a taxi at Lisbon airport and began stuttering Spanish to the taxi driver.
You said you taught English.. for how long? And you also mentioned you love surfing!
I have a long standing passion for surfing and so this was the overriding reason why I opted for an English teaching position in Lisbon.
I taught English from 2007 until 2017 as well as running surf and bodyboard holidays around the world from 2014 – 2017. Chasing waves around the world saw me clock up more than my fair share of air miles, took me to some of the most beautiful places on earth, but also opened my eyes to its fragility. It was this burden of air travel and witnessing first-hand the human driven destruction of our natural world, such as palm oil plantations in Sumatra and the illegal trapping of turtles in Nicaragua, that motivated me to take action. Four years on and too many extra grey hairs to count, Mossy Earth has successful reforestation and rewilding projects in Scotland, Ireland, Romania, Slovakia, Namibia and Portugal.
You are still here. That must mean you must love Portugal! Or, at least, fell in love in Portugal... Are you married? Did I imagine hearing a baby crying in the background when we spoke? If so, is she involved in Mossy Earth as well? (Your wife, not the baby.)
Yes, I am still here. After living in Lisbon, Carcavelos, Cascais and Colares, I moved to the Alentejo one year ago.
I am not married but have a Portuguese partner called Joana who is from the Alentejo. No children as yet but we have a menagerie of pets. We’ve two dogs, both named Luz (a long story) and two cats, Tareko and Azeitona …the latter we recently rescued after finding him hit by a car.
The crying you heard was Azeitona, who despite having only 3 functioning legs and smaller than the other three animals, is the boss.
Joana does not work for Mossy Earth, but has her own brand of vegan food that she runs. Beetroot offers a range of vegan burgers, falafel and croquettes made from quality and healthy Portuguese ingredients. (Note Joana also mitigates her business’ carbon footprint with Mossy Earth.)
You co-founded it with a chap called Duarte, right? How did you guys meet?
Duarte, Portuguese and also a keen surfer and diver, and I met through a mutual friend. At the time, we were both concerned about the state of the environment and both at a stage of our respective careers where we were looking for more purpose and to take action. So, over a few beers and a host of ideas, we came up with the idea for Mossy Earth.
Where was your first project? And how did that come about?
Our first project was in the Douro Valley that had been devastated by the 2017 wildfires. Incidentally, we were there just last week for a team meet up and showed our newer team members the project and its progress. It was really exciting to see large areas of young trees in an area that is considered tough to plant in, particularly after the fires.
And how did it evolve from there? Where else do you have projects? You mentioned that whenever possible you travel by train?
To begin with we focussed on reforestation projects but it was the concept of rewilding that really excited us and so, after conceiving the idea of the membership in 2018/19 we had the means to be able to fund monthly rewilding projects as well as the tree planting.
Now we have both reforestation and rewilding projects underway in Portugal, Ireland, Scotland, Romania, Slovakia and Croatia. We also have some smaller partnerships in Namibia and Madagascar.
Moving forward, it is our aim to have projects that are accessible overland as we have made a company wide decision to avoid plane travel wherever possible.
We move around Portugal fairly regularly, by train, because we have a number of ongoing projects here: including reforestation projects, kelp restoration, seagrass conservation, vulture monitoring, invasive plant removal and human–wolf conflict management.
How big is the team now? Does everybody live in Portugal?
We are currently a full time team of 8 with an additional 3 -5 interns / pro bonos at any one time.
The core team is made up of close friends and previous interns that performed well and matched Mossy Earth’s ethos and vision.
Of the 8 full time, 5 of us live and work in Portugal.
It looks like everybody in the team seems to be some kind of adventurer with a love for nature... is that right?
Yes, not only do we all have a shared passion for conserving nature but for outdoor pursuits, whether that is wild swimming, climbing, diving, surfing, hiking or trail running
Do you do any other interesting things to cut out your carbon footprint?
It is our belief that every attempt should be made to reduce emissions before carbon offsetting is even an option. Once we have done everything in our power as individuals or businesses to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions, only then is carbon offsetting the final, logical step. As such we offer our members a CO2 assessment with practical steps to help them minimize their environmental impact. We also have an extensive and freely available collection of low impact living guides, articles and video tutorials, which offer useful solutions to reducing one’s carbon footprint. The guides cover travel, diet, energy, lifestyle, and waste.
To find out more about Mossy Earth visit their website: www.mossy.earth